For decades, the healthcare industry has been concentrated in the northeast. That makes Ryan Abbate’s accomplishments even more remarkable in that he was able to found and build a major advertising agency on the west coast, growing Pacific Communications from a handful of people to a 250-person organization with an impressive client list.
West Coast born and bred, Ryan graduated from the University of Southern California (USC) with a degree in business. Ryan has always been very clear: healthcare marketing and communications was his chosen path. Immediately upon graduation from USC in 1984, he joined Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, where he carried a bag in both Arizona and Southern California. He excelled in sales and was quickly promoted to Advertising Manager at Merrell Dow’s corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. Over the years, Ryan’s role expanded, and he was ultimately promoted to Director of Advertising for Merrell Dow’s Lakeside Consumer Products division. This made Ryan, at age 29, the youngest department head in the Dow Chemical organization.
In 1990, Ryan returned to his home state of California, joining Allergan Pharmaceuticals as Vice President, Global Communications, where one of his responsibilities was managing a small in-house services group. When Allergan decided to divest this capability in 1993, Ryan approached them with a different proposal: spinning off this group into a separate company. With 18 people and no agency-of-record assignments, Pacific Communications was born.
The early days were difficult, however, with Ryan’s leadership and a complete overhaul of the agency’s structure and staff, Pacific made a strong comeback by the end of decade, and in 1999 won the coveted “Agency on the Rise” Manny Award from Med Ad News. The next decade brought even more growth, as Pacific added several blue chip clients to its diverse roster, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Genentech, Amgen, Medtronic, and Bausch + Lomb. Ryan also focused on hiring some of the industry’s top talent from New York and Chicago, strengthening the agency even further. This impressive increase in both domestic and global clients continued through the next decade, making Pacific Communications one of the fastest growing and most successful agencies in the business, with billings and staff increases significantly higher than industry norms.
Ryan’s career has been punctuated by a series of groundbreaking achievements: the first branded DTC commercial ever broadcast for a prescription product, the first in-house agency to spin off into a successful full-service shop, and the creation of the largest healthcare agency on the West Coast.
In 1988, Ryan, in tandem with Greg Westerbeck, Director of Marketing at Merrell Dow, and agency Rubin, Reid, Noto and Ehrenthal, sat down with the FDA to jointly craft a commercial that would serve as the benchmark for all DTC pharmaceutical commercials to follow. The product was Nicorette®, then an Rx.
In addition, Ryan has been integral to the successful launch of many new products, including Botox®, one of the most recognized brands ever developed. Ryan developed the agency’s experience with Botox® Cosmetic into the leading medical aesthetics capability in the industry, as well as built a diverse client roster covering a range of therapeutic areas, including oncology, glaucoma, cardiology, and diabetes.
Ryan also was an early supporter of having all content, regardless of medium, created by a single agency. He knew that digital capabilities, along with print and video expertise, would be critical to the ongoing success of Pacific Communications. As a result, he championed full integration of digital into the agency’s offerings.
Ryan has also given back to the industry through participation in its organizations. A long-term member of the Coalition of Healthcare Communications – and the only West Coast representative on the Board of Directors – Ryan provided quiet advocacy for the healthcare communications industry in New York, Washington, D.C., and the West Coast for more than 15 years. He was also a long-term member of the Medical Marketing Association (MMA), the Medical Advertising Action Committee (MAAC), and the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.
With a groundbreaking career punctuated by a string of successes, Ryan Abbate deserves his induction into the Medical Advertising Hall of Fame.